The GAPS diet is a strict elimination diet that requires its followers to cut out grains, pasteurized dairy, starchy vegetables and refined carbs. It’s promoted as a natural treatment for people with conditions that affect the brain, such as autism. However, it’s a controversial therapy and has been widely criticized by doctors, scientists and nutrition professionals for its restrictive regimen.

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his article explores the features of the GAPS dietary protocol and examines whether there is any evidence behind its purported health benefits.

 

What Is the GAPS Diet and Who Is It For?

GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It’s a term that was invented by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who also designed the GAPS diet.

 

Her theory is that many conditions that affect your brain are caused by a leaky gut. Leaky gut syndrome is the term used to describe an increase in the permeability of the gut wall (1).

The GAPS theory is that a leaky gut allows chemicals and bacteria from your food and environment to enter your blood when they wouldn’t normally do so. It claims that once these foreign substances enter your blood, they can affect your brain’s function and development, causing “brain fog” and conditions like autism.

 

The GAPS protocol is designed to heal the gut, preventing toxins from entering the blood stream and lowering “toxicity” in the body. However, it isn’t clear if or how leaky gut plays a role in the development of diseases (23).

 

In her book, Dr. Campbell-McBride states that the GAPS dietary protocol cured her first child of autism. She now widely promotes the diet as a natural cure for many psychiatric and neurological conditions, including:

  • Autism

  • ADD and ADHD

  • Dyspraxia

  • Dyslexia

  • Depression

  • Schizophrenia

  • Tourette’s syndrome

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Eating disorders

  • Gout

  • Childhood bed wetting

The diet is most often used for children, especially those who have a health condition that’s poorly understood by mainstream medicine, such as autism. The diet also claims to help children who have a food intolerance or allergy.

It can be a years-long process, and requires you to cut out all foods Dr. Campbell-McBride thinks contribute to a leaky gut. This includes all grains, pasteurized dairy, starchy vegetables and refined carbs.

The GAPS protocol is made up of three main stages: the GAPS introduction diet, the full GAPS diet and a reintroduction phase for coming off of the diet.

SUMMARY: GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It’s an elimination diet claimed to cure conditions that affect brain function, including autism and attention deficit disorder.

 

Introduction Phase: Elimination

The introduction phase is the most intense part of the diet because it eliminates the most foods. It’s called the “gut healing phase” and can last from three weeks to one year, depending on your symptoms.

This phase is broken down into six stages:

  • Stage 1: Consume homemade bone broth, juices from probiotic foods and ginger, and drink mint or chamomile tea with honey between meals. People who are not dairy intolerant may eat unpasteurized, homemade yogurt or kefir.

  • Stage 2: Add in raw organic egg yolks, ghee and stews made with vegetables and meat or fish.

  • Stage 3: All previous foods plus avocado, fermented vegetables, GAPS-recipe pancakes and scrambled eggs made with ghee, duck fat or goose fat.

  • Stage 4: Add in grilled and roasted meats, cold-pressed olive oil, vegetable juice and GAPS-recipe bread.

  • Stage 5: Introduce cooked apple purée, raw vegetables starting with lettuce and peeled cucumber, fruit juice and small amounts of raw fruit, but no citrus.

  • Stage 6: Finally, introduce more raw fruit, including citrus.

During the introduction phase, the diet requires you to introduce foods slowly, starting with small amounts and building up gradually. The diet recommends that you move from one stage to the next once you are tolerating the foods you have introduced. You are considered to be tolerating a food when you have a normal bowel movement. Once the introduction diet is complete, you can move to the full GAPS diet.

SUMMARY:  The introduction phase is the most restrictive phase of the diet. It lasts up to one year and removes all starchy carbs from your diet. Instead, you’ll eat mostly broth, stews and probiotic foods.

 

Maintenance Phase: The Full GAPS Diet

The full GAPS diet can last 1.5–2 years. During this part of the diet, people are advised to base the majority of their diet on the following foods:

  • Fresh meat, preferably hormone-free and grass-fed

  • Animal fats, such as lard, tallow, lamb fat, duck fat, raw butter and ghee

  • Fish

  • Shellfish

  • Organic eggs

  • Fermented foods, such as kefir, homemade yogurt and sauerkraut

  • Vegetables

Followers of the diet can also eat moderate amounts of nuts and GAPS-recipe baked goods made with nut flours.There are also a number of additional recommendations that go along with the full GAPS diet. These include:

  • Do not eat meat and fruit together.

  • Use organic foods whenever possible.

  • Eat animal fats, coconut oil or cold-pressed olive oil at every meal.

  • Consume bone broth with every meal.

  • Consume large amounts of fermented foods, if you can tolerate them.

  • Avoid packaged and canned foods.

While on this phase of the diet, you should avoid all other foods, particularly refined carbs, preservatives and artificial coloring.

SUMMARY:  The full GAPS diet is considered the maintenance phase of the diet, and lasts between 1.5–2 years. It’s based on animal fats, meat, fish, eggs and vegetables. It also includes probiotic foods.

 

Reintroduction Phase: Coming off GAPS

If you’re following the GAPS diet to the letter, you’ll be on the full diet for at least 1.5–2 years before you start reintroducing other foods. The diet suggests that you start the reintroduction phase after you have experienced normal digestion and bowel movements for at least six months. Like the other stages of this diet, the final stage can also be a long process as you reintroduce foods slowly over a number of months.

The diet suggests introducing each food individually in a small amount. If you don’t note any digestive issues over 2–3 days, you may gradually increase your portions. The diet doesn’t detail the order or the exact foods you should introduce. However, it states that you should start with new potatoes and fermented, gluten-free grains. Even once you’re off the diet, you’re advised to continue avoiding all highly processed and refined high-sugar foods, retaining the whole-foods principles of the protocol.

SUMMARY: This stage reintroduces foods that are not included in the full GAPS diet. You are advised to still avoid foods high in refined carbs.

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